It’s that magical time a year where can dress up and go out to get something good to eat. Wait, that’s my anniversary. Ok, we can dress up in something scary and get something bad for us. No, that was my wedding. Well, anyway, Halloween is probably in my top two of favorite holidays. Now, I know I’ve had some issues with holidays in the past. Quite frankly, I haven’t even bothered to decorate this year because my house is still a wreck. Still, there is nothing I love more than holiday themed television. I’d like to share what I think is probably some of the best Halloween shows out there. Whether you have the DVDs or TIVO or whatever, consider staying up late this Halloween and watch some of these shows back to back. Now, I can’t see you fitting every single title into a 24 hour period and quite frankly, if this is what you plan to do for Halloween instead of having a little fun outside the house, then I fear for you. However, since Halloween falls on a Friday this year, I say take every opportunity to enjoy each of these over the entire weekend. You can probably find a lot of these on YouTube. For some of the more gruesome I suggest not watching the broadcast version as they cut out all the good parts.
First, I will list all the actual Halloween related titles, followed by suggestions on horror related titles that I feel are great to see on Halloween. The only exceptions are a handful of movies that are staples at Halloween time and I think you can agree that they are the rule and not the exception.
Halloween (1978) Of course, we start off with the best and titular movie out there. Being only three years old when the low budget blockbuster was released, in the theater, I caught it probably 10 years later on cable and HBO. By then, the fourth movie had been in the theaters but the original still stands out as one of the greatest horror movies of all time. If there was a Mount Rushmore of horror icons, Michael Myers would be on it alongside Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, and Leatherface. Of course some today would want to add Jig Saw to that mount but I think it’s just fine the way it is. Halloween is one of those quintessential movies that begs you turn off the lights, curl up on the couch, and wonder if you locked the door.
Halloween II (1981), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
I suggest popping the first sequel in right after viewing the original, and a mandatory pee break. The other two should be watched back to back but it’s not mandatory for immediate viewing. Part II picks up right at the end of the first movie. The terror continues as everyone goes on the hunt for Myers while he terrorizes Laurie Strode at the hospital. Instead of the usual picking off of her friends en route to the climax, Myers picks off hospital employees, obviously enraged by trying to get his meds reimbursed from his HMO. Myers does manage to follow at least one rule of horror movies by killing a couple, for engaging in a sexual act. The film received a mixed reception from critics but it offers two important events, the connection between Myers and Laurie and the introduction of Jimmy Lloyd who serves as a love interest for Laurie. While any true horrorphile will tell you to stay away from less than excellent sequels, (cough) Season of the Witch (cough), especially when the original director and screenwriter are absent, I will give into the fact that Parts 4 and 5 are pretty good. Danielle Harris was brought into the mix as Jamie Lloyd, the daughter of Laurie and Jimmy. She appeared in both Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers. One would originally think that her “sister” Rachel would have been the final girl, because following format, she was the “virginal” teen while Jamie was the young child being watched. However, it is clear to see that Jamie is the true protagonist and Danielle gives an amazing performance in both films. I was blown away by her commitment to the character at such an early age. The end of the fifth film totally shifted gears into delving into Michael’s reason for his killing spree. Quite frankly, I felt this was a great disservice to such an iconic and everlasting character. While Freddy and Jason are inherently supernatural predators, the fact that Michael Myers is a flesh and blood personification of the boogieman makes him such a real threat. No one expects to ever encounter Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees in real life, but Myers is a definite possibility, not discounting his apparent immortality. Sadly, the next film in the series goes into weird druidic rituals and other hooey to explain Myers’ anger and they kill off Jamie Lloyd in the beginning only after replacing her with another actress. Kudos to Danielle Harris for sticking to her guns, including requesting a pay cut to counter the fate of Jamie Lloyd. Now, before I go on too long about this series, I will say that there was a brief reprieve in Halloween H20. Laurie Strode returns for the seventh film and the series gets updated to take advantage of the Kevin Williamson style of writing that came about in the Scream series. While it misses in some scenes, the climax where Laurie Strode returns for the final fight wielding an axe and screaming, "Michael" gave me shivers.
Night of the Living Dead (1968). It’s not a Halloween themed movie, but I’ve already seen it on television three times this season. It’s a classic in anyone’s book. The original cult zombie movie offers all the isolation and dread that one could want on a dark and stormy night. You’ll take a second glance at the windows, making sure no recently deceased are hanging around outside looking to sell you damnation. You’ll be hooked in for the long haul from the first moment you hear Johnny spout, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.” While, I do recommend viewing the sequels, it does tend to drag on and you’ve got a lot to get through. Besides, they lends themselves more to dread than the first one which is just pure popcorn cult horror.
It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (1966)
Truly, a classic. No Halloween is complete for me until I see this show. I can remember as a small child going out trick or treating, in the dark mind you, then coming home and plopping myself down in front of the television to watch this while I ate some of my stash. I suggest you either kick off your marathon or end it with this gem. I own the DVD so I can watch it in July, if I choose to. The annual treat is one of those nostalgic childhood moments that continues to mark my life as I gear up for the full holiday push (Halloween-New Years) by watching it. Linus’ dedication to welcoming the great pumpkin only to have his hopes dashed by a Beagle in WWI flying ace attire simply sparks sympathy in anyone who has ever missed trick or treating for whatever reason. The first year I considered myself too old to go out was a true Sally moment as I missed the event, not because I was stuck out in a pumpkin patch with some blockhead zealot, but because I was afraid of looking more like a child predator in my costume which started to ride up at the knees. If that wasn’t bad enough, my town started holding its trick or treating in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, for safety reasons. I’m sorry, but it’s not the same if it isn’t dark and spooky out there.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) is again not a Halloween themed movie but being part of the Mount Rushmore of horror, Freddy Krueger is one bad mofo. Well, at least he was for the first and third movies. Don’t know why we had to stick that wussy Jesse (the character not the actor) into the second film as he just mucked it all up. Anywho, Freddy is at his best before he got all punny in the sequels, stalking each kid with violent glee. The first is the best as it is in so many horror movies. Krueger isn’t as visible on screen and his voice is modulated to sound more terrifying than funny as it does in later movies. You’ll be popping the No-Doz by the time Johnny Depp gets sucked into his bed, an eerie foreshadowing to his fate at the hands of the Kraken in Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest.
Poltergeist (1982) “They’re here!” No, it’s not trick or treaters, it’s the people under the pool. Poltergeist taps into the fears we all have has home owners and not just the housing crisis, although that is pretty scary in itself. It’s a great haunted house movie that kept me from ever going to sleep without looking under my bed for years. That whole clown scene probably what scared me more than the tree or the pool party with the corpses. Definitely watch this with someone you trust.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). If you’re in a party mood or simply looking to dress up in a costume to watch a movie, may I suggest this musical mayhem. This might be the scariest movie of them all, if you are too conservative in thinking. My sophomore year I went to a cast party after our Spring musical and we had this playing on the television in the background. The family was a little older and well to do and when all the revelry began in full force, they asked their daughter to “shut that piece of trash off.”
The Brady Bunch episode “Fright Night” (1972)
Pure cheese but still a memorable show. The Brady Boys set out to scare the Brady Girls by using special effects that would make Uwe Boll sit up and applaud, before stealing the idea. A ghostly image outside the window is merely a projected slide found by the girls snooping in the boys room. Luckily, they didn’t find Greg’s stash of photos that he took with a concealed camera of Marcia bathing. Ok, I made that up. Anyway, it’s who has the bigger stones as the girls challenge the boys to sleep in the attic all night while they lay down some scary sound effects. Losing the bet and being chided by Alice for taking it, the kids team up to scare the B out of Ann B Davis. The only bust shown in this sugar pop party is the one of Mr. Brady sculpted by Mrs. Brady. It’s also the only body count we get, unless you count Tiger who disappeared in the previous season. Actually, the dog who played Tiger was killed by a car in season one and the replacement was only used when essential to the plot due to difficulty with the animal.
The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror (1990-2008)
The annual fright fest and punathon that is The Simpsons Halloween episode has got to be the longest running Halloween themed episode series on television. 18 years people! Pop Culture is neither safe nor spared from the sharpened claws of Springfield’s favorite family. Hopefully, after the show goes off the air, there will be a standalone DVD offering of every single episode from throughout the series. As it is by standard DVDs, the collection would be up to five discs not counting extras which is a mandatory inclusion in my opinion. Highlights from throughout the series include Bad Dream House, The Raven, The Monkey’s Paw, Clown Without Pity, Dial Z for Zombies, The Devil and Homer Simpson… Doh! Why bother, they all fantastic. At already 9 hours in running time, sprinkle these throughout your marathon like Looney Tunes shorts at the movies.
CHiPs episode “Trick or Trick” (1979) The hobgoblin radio broadcasts, the ghost of Karen Carpenter as a robber running down the street with a funky disco beat, the scavenger hunt gals that Jon and Ponch offer to look the other way for in exchange for a party invite. These are the reasons why I had to include this on the list. With as much cheese as The Brady Bunch, CHiPs is one of those craptastic shows I loved as a kid and this Halloween hour was no slouch fest on the part of the creators.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949) The cartoon version of the Washington Irving classic was more scary to me than the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp film from 1999. Perhaps it was the dark New England style tone or the fact that the Headless Horseman chases Ichabod through the town to the bridge which serves as the boundary of the Horseman’s reach. The false sense of security is shattered as the Horseman hurls a Jack-o-lantern at Ichabod. The screen goes dark and Crane’s fate is left open to interpretation. This isn’t a happy ending folks. Although, it’s speculated that Crane slinks off to marry another woman and raises children who look like him, I still say he bought it at the bridge.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Halloween” (1997) , "Hush" (1999) and "Fear, Itself" (2000)
BTVS is one of those shows that was always praised yet rarely rewarded. Over the course of seven seasons the show consistently cranked out great material, even through much of the 4th, 5th, and 6th seasons which to me were a shift from Full Tilt Buffy. Starting off with Halloween we find Buffy and the Scoobies relegated to chaperoning children during Trick or Treat. After choosing costumes from Ethan Rayne’s shop they find that they have taken on the persona of their costume (Buffy as a Southern Belle, Xander as an Army Commando, and Willow as a ghost) which is in direct contrast to their naturally personalities. Well, all except Willow. Originally she was to appear in a slutty outfit but covered up with a ghost costume at the last minute. It should be noted that slutty Willow would eventually show up as a vampire from an alternate timeline in Season 3 and Xander’s Army Intelligence is constantly referred to throughout the series as a residual side effect from that night. Hush is probably one of the best BTVS episodes. It plays on the idea that there are a group of creatures called “The Gentleman” that resemble Reverend Kane from Poltergeist II. They move from town to town and steal the voices of the citizens leaving them to float around stealing seven hearts with surgical precision. The episode is great because it resembles a Tim Burton universe with a color palette stretching into the blue scale and a soundtrack reminiscent of Danny Elfman.
The show itself is very well done with top notch staging but Hush provides some genuine scares and an overall case of the Hee Bee Gee Bees. Fear, Itself brings Season 4 into Halloween mode as a frat house party turns into a real house of horrors. Partygoers find their worst fears have come to life thanks to a demonic sign drawn just for aesthetics and an accidental blood sacrifice. The official start of the running gag between Anya and bunnies starts here and runs for three more seasons. Great stuff.
South Park episode “Pinkeye” (1997) “Spookyfish” (1998) "Korn's Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery" (1999) "Hell on Earth 2006" (2006) This collection of episodes from one of the raunchiest yet smartest cartoons is sure to break up the scarefest nicely. From the first season, Pinkeye probably gives us the fastest time of death for Kenny (around 25 seconds) for any episode. The Mir space station is the culprit and Kenny is taken to the morgue for embalming. A bottle of Worcestershire sauce gets into the mix and turns Kenny into a zombie. Kenny then goes on a rampage infecting most of South park. The best bits are Cartman’s costume changes from Hitler to a member of the KKK and Chef leading the zombies in a Thriller dance break. Spookyfish is a classic if only for the Barbara Streisand heads in the corners of the screen promoting “Spooky Vision.” The episode plays on the Evil Parallel Dimension motif found in Star Trek where everyone has an opposite personality and a goatee. Evil Cartman, who is actually good, is the preferred twin and while trying to discover who’s brutally killing the residents of South Park, the rest of the boys attempt to banish the real Cartman and keep his hairy chinned twin. Korn's Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery reeks of Scooby Doo goodness as the band Korn comes to South Park to play a show. Driving a van and being spooked by “Pirate Ghosts” leads to them joining up with the boys to figure out where Kyle’s dead grandmother ended up. Wendy wins first prize again in her Chewbacca costume and Kenny, of course, dies. Hell on Earth 2006 brings back a familiar face in Satan. Previously, Satan threw a boxing match with Jesus, dated, broke up with, and got back together with Saddam Hussein. Now he has decided that Halloween should be all about him and has decided to throw himself a Super Sweet 16 party and acts accordingly like a little brat in full Britney Spears, circa 1998, attire. Meanwhile, the boys attempt to summon Biggie Smalls ala Bloody Mary and succeed only to have him upset for being late to Satan’s party. While not the best South Park episode it does have the series trademark crassness with Steve Irwin appearing at the party with a stingray protruding from his chest. Satan chastises his guest for dressing as Irwin as it was “too soon to go there” but we find out that it really was Steve Irwin. Apparently, it doesn’t matter how good a person you are, everyone goes to Hell. Except Kenny who goes to Heaven to thwart Saddam’s attempt to overthrow Heaven in Best Friends Forever.
Broom-Stick Bunny (1956), A Witch’s Tangled Hare (1959) and Transylvania 6-5000 (1963)
If Bugs Bunny cartoons weren't fantastic to begin with then including a few Halloween themed shorts ought to be freaking sweet. Broom-Stick Bunny introduces us to Witch Hazel who wants to be the ugliest of them all. A trick or treating Bugs in a witch costume takes the ugly prize as Hazel’s mirror declares Bugs uglier. When she realizes Bugs is a rabbit she finds he is one of the ingredients in a potion she was brewing. Wackiness ensues.
Witch’s Tangled Hare has Hazel pursuing Bugs through MacBeth's castle trying to cook him up for dinner. With a cackle and scattering of bobby pins, she chases Bugs on broomstick while a writer attempts to create a story around the name on the mailbox. Pure Looney fun.
Transylvania 6-5000 offers up one of the most hilarious premises. Bugs ends up in Pittsburghe, Transylvania by accident and mistakes the castle of Count Blood Count as a motel. After reading a book on magic, Bugs defends himself by reciting magic words, turning the Count back and forth from human to bat form at the most inopportune times. Then he just gets silly mixing and matching words and eventually turning the Count into Witch Hazel by saying “Newport News”
The Real Ghostbusters episode "When Halloween Was Forever" (1986) and "Halloween II 1/2" (1987)
One of the few cartoon adaptations to actually measure up to its inspiration, TRG was way ahead of its time in terms of mythology and plot arcs. Rooted in actual mythos, the Ghostbusters dealt with specters and demons of all sorts, but only a few got reoccurring shots on the show. Samhain was perfect subject matter in regards to Halloween. He attempts to make Halloween night last forever and corrals all the ghosts in New York, including a reluctant Slimer. Eventually, he is captured and stored in the containment unit but you know he is going to return as Egon observes him waiting for a chance to return. That return would come a season later as two goblins release him from the containment unit.
Scariest Places On Earth (2000-2006) A no chance to fail idea. Get Linda Blair to narrate a show about the scariest places on Earth and have Zelda Rubenstein narrate it. How can you go wrong? Well, for starters, you over load the show with goofy antics from a radio DJ, Alan Robson, pretending to be a serious host. You promise to deliver the goods and never do so. Then, you blatantly misportray a group of New Jersey Devil Hunters and you pretty much kill your fan base. All foolishness aside, some of the episodes did offer up some scary treats but trying to add more and more episodes in a quick fashion didn't help. Some of the stand out locations that kind of freaked me out were of course, West Virginia State Pennitentiary and Bunny Man Bridge.
MTV’s Fear (2000) While a worthwhile premise brought reality television to the MTV crowd, ultimately, Fear suffered the same fate as every other show about supernatual hauntings, it failed to deliver the goods. Whether ghosts and spirits do not exist or refuse to sell out for Hollywood execs, you never see a one and a lot of the show was built upon the idea that the fear is real. Each contestant's imagination is sent full tilt with a backstory about the location. Mood lighting and sound effects add to the fear factor as they are dared to sit in a room for sometimes hours. The pressure to keep people interested more than likely led to the crew to stage some scenes such as the one with the La Guerre Plantation. At one point, a contestant is dared to sit under the covers of a bed in a supposedly haunted bedroom. A security camera records the room and suddenly the door slams. But this ghost has a visible human frame as it runs past the door when it opens back up. A crew member was obviously put up to slamming the door while the contestant was hidden under the covers. Still, the first episode was the best showing West Virginia State Pennitentiary which is a yearly Halloween attraction.
The War of the Worlds radio broadcast (October 31, 1938)
You can't get more Halloween than the biggest trick of all, convincing over people that Martians have invaded New Jersey. Orson Welles punk'd nearly two million people. It even caused Hitler to pretty much call us stupid for believing it. Adapted from H.G. Wells' novel, the radio broadcast plays out like any normal night, weather, music, then all of a sudden breaking news about a meteorite that crashed at a farm. From then, it goes full tilt destruction until the it ends with the aliens' demise due to the common cold. Nearly 60 years later, Jeff Goldblum would steal Welles' idea and use it in Independence Day
Friday the 13th (1980) We all do it. That sound which is actually "Ki, Ki, Ki, Ma, Ma, Ma" as in "Kill" and "Mommy". Jason Vorhees rounds out the old school slasher villians yet in the first mommy he was the the red herring. It was really Mommy doing all the murdering. While it is impossible for this movie to fall on Halloween, there was some talks about a Jason vs. Freddy sequel involving Michael Myers, but that makes you think that there was a true winner in the J vs. F fight. The loser however was the audience that actually sat through Jason X, Jason in space....and the future. Don't mess with the original I say, but then again, just like Halloween, Friday the 13th is getting a reboot. That's the real horror.
(1983) What? Everything on this list didn't have to be movie or a television show. At 13:43, it's nearly the length of a standard half hour show or at least an episode of Robot Chicken. While, you probably won't find this in the rotation anywhere on MTV or VH1, you can just as easily find it on YouTube. Wow. Thinking back to grade school, I remember watching this and actually being somewhat scared. Of course, after getting to see the "Making Of" special on the video all that fear went away and was replaced by awe. This was Michael Jackson before he went off the deep end. There was great talent, and he surrounded himself on this project with some of the best. You got Rick Baker doing makeup, John Landis directing, and Vincent Price doing the rap in the middle. Could you imagine being smack dab in the middle of a zombie apocalypse only to have them dance it out? In any case, the video was extremely popular and highly imitated. As of 2006, it was listed as the most successful music video.
Now, by all means this is not a complete list. I didn't even get into shows like Home Improvement or The Cosby Show. But, I did include a few more movies and shows that I feel would make a great addition to Halloween marathon
E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982)
28 Days Later (2002)
The Thing (1982)
Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)
Return of the Living Dead (1985)
The Lost Boys (1987)
Pet Semetary (1989)
Monster Squad (1987)
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Fright Night (1985)
Night of the Creeps (1986)
Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987)
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
The Omen (1976)
The Prince of Darkness (1987)
Event Horizon (1997)
The Blob (1988)
The Fog (1980)
Jeepers Creepers (2001)
The Exorcist (1973)
Well, there it is. I hope you have a great Halloween, have some candy and a scare and we’ll see you for the holiday.
Michael Jackson's Thriller